When Osama Bin Laden selected the date of September 11, 2001, to attack the twin towers of the World Trade Center, in New York City, this was not just a clever play on the phrase “911,” the standard phone number for making emergency calls. It was a deliberate attempt by Bin Laden to symbolically reverse the devastating defeat of Islamic Turks, at the Battle of Vienna, on September 11, 1683.
The Ottoman Empire had held the city of Vienna in a brutal siege for several months, as the Ottomans sought to take advantage of the disarray experienced in Western Europe, after years of religious wars between Roman Catholics and Protestants, that divided Christian Europe from within. By attempting to take Vienna, the Ottomans were hoping that a weakened Hapsburg Empire would eventually capitulate to the relentless attempts of the Islamic Turks to take the city, as a gateway into the rest of Christian Europe.
But the Austrian Hapsburgs established an alliance with the Polish-Lithuanians, led by King John III Sobieski. Sobieski led what many historians consider to be the largest calvary charge in world history, as typically dated to September 11, 1683, that broke the Islamic Turkish siege of Vienna, thus ending the threat of Ottoman expansion into Western Europe. As demonstrated in the following 3-minute movie clip, from the 2012 film, The Day of the Siege, Sobieski describes the importance of the battle, in explicitly apocalyptic terms, as a heroic defense of Christendom, with a passionate speech to his troops before the battle.
Twenty years after Osama Bin Laden’s attack on America, a symbolic victory for the radical wing of Islam, a massive visual spectacle imprinted on the minds of nearly all Americans, we can look back at the challenges faced by Christians, in the wake of 911.
In many ways, 911 marked significant shifts in our culture: a decline of the Christian Right, the first major world event to be broadcast across the then infant world of social media, and the rise of the New Atheist movement, a.l.a. Richard Dawkins, that portrayed all religion, not just Islam or Christianity, as the greatest threat against humanity. A new generation of young people, growing up in the wake of 911, have grown increasingly sympathetic to the cries of such skepticism about organized religious faith. After the era of the Post-Reformation religious wars, after the Age of the Enlightenment, and now into the reality of a Post-Christian moment, how will the Christian movement respond?
That is something to think and pray about today.